Cut lambing losses through better organised routines and colostrum
Many sheep producers could cut neonatal lamb losses significantly with well-organised lambing routines and better colostrum management.
With falling lamb prices and potential Schmallenberg Virus implications piling even more pressure on beleaguered Westcountry flockmasters, attention to detail in these crucial areas will be more important than ever this lambing season.
"Producers face a battle over the next few weeks and can ill afford to lose any healthy-born lambs to the usual causes of lamb deaths in the South West," warned Nia Williams, technical manager with lamb nutrition and sheep husbandry specialist Nettex.
According to research, nearly half of all lamb losses occur during the first 48 hours of life, but many of these could be avoided, said Mrs Williams.
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"The major causes of lamb loss are abortion and stillbirths, congenital defects, predators and misadventure, infectious diseases, and exposure and starvation.
"But with good stockmanship and best practice routines around lambing, and a clear focus on quality colostrum intake, many producers could save a lot more lambs – particularly those early life losses caused by disease, exposure and starvation."
Mrs Williams explained that newborn lambs had limited energy reserves and needed rapid access to quality colostrum to survive and thrive.
"There are three golden rules to colostrum feeding: quality, quantity and quickly," she said. "Quality depends on the ewe being adequately fed and supplemented in late pregnancy. In terms of quantity, Scottish Agricultural Colleges' research has shown that for disease prevention lambs need about 60ml per kilo of birth weight as the first protein feed after birth, with another 60ml within six hours.
"But to prevent hypothermia, twin lambs born outside would need an additional 210ml per kilo in the first 18 hours. That adds up to just over 1,100ml in total for a 4kg twin lamb reared outside."
If colostrum is in short supply, nutritionists suggest producers try to provide all lambs with some, and use a high-quality colostrum substitute to top up what newborns can get from the ewe.
"But remember when it comes to colostrum alternatives you get what you pay for," Mrs Williams warned. "A good-quality product will contain a high level of digestible fat for energy and protection from hypothermia, protein and – although manufacturers cannot claim their products reduce disease, as they are not licensed medicines – some will contain dried bovine colostrum and the higher the immunoglobulin content the better. Some products also contain prebiotics and probiotics to encourage healthy gut colonisation and development. These are the products you should be seeking to purchase. Good colostrum alternatives will complement maternal colostrum."
Nettex has published a five-point guide to what to look for in a quality colostrum supplement this lambing season.